HIV and the Church

Posted by Katie Sallee

Her Excellency Jeannette Nyiramongi Kagame, first lady of Rwanda, gave a speech at amfAR’s Capitol Hill Conference last month among a line-up of esteemed speakers—including Dr. Susan Blumenthal, amfAR Senior Policy and Medical Advisor and Ambassador Deborah Birx, M.D., U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

Mrs. Kagame spoke of her own nation’s fight against HIV and AIDS, “Against the backdrop of a genocide legacy, our nation’s response to HIV/AIDS became even more complex. Nevertheless, with committed and forward looking leadership, we were convinced that addressing the issue of women and HIV/AIDS would be more effective if we took a holistic approach; one that combined laws and policies, with the implementation of various programs that favor women and girls.”

The First Lady highlighted a number of those policies in Rwanda, which include:

•     Rwanda enjoys the highest female legislative representation worldwide at 64%.

•     40% of the cabinet and judiciary is comprised of women.

•     The legal marriage age is 21 years as stipulated by law. This law was enacted to protect adolescent girls from early marriages.

•     An inheritance law that grants equal inheritance rights to men and women was passed (poverty is a contributing factor in spread of HIV).

•    Rwanda was the first African country where the Human Papilloma Virus vaccine was administered. Today 93% of girls aged 12-17 are vaccinated for cervical cancer.

•    Girls’ enrolment rate at primary school is at 98%.

•    Prevention of Mother to Child transmission (PMTCT) services are available in 97% of all health facilities and transmission has dropped to 2%.

•    HIV testing among young women has increased from about 10% in 2005 to almost 60% in 2010.

•    Community Based Health Insurance adherence is at 73% as of 2013 – 2014,

•   45,000 community health workers  raise awareness in communities about HIV prevention, testing and adherence to treatment. Two thirds of them are women.


She noted that these policies have resulted in a decrease in maternal mortality from 8 deaths a day to less than 1 per day. The First Lady also touched on Rwanda’s work towards sustainable financing in the midst of diminishing funds for HIV/AIDS – plans that include increased focus on public private partnership and innovation.

“Despite encouraging advances we see on the HIV front, we need to be ever conscious of the treat it poses to humankind. The most troubling part about HIV is that we have not mastered the virus: neither its mutations nor its mobility…It is evident that no state, country, or continent is completely safe from this ticking time bomb of a virus, that can explode without any notice.”

In closing, Her Excellency, co-founder of the Organization of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS, spoke of the importance of combating HIV/AIDS by empowering women around the world: “But, let us not let our guard down or take our eyes off the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Let us resist the natural urge to become complacent, or worn-out. Let the modest progress we have made, not render us insensitive or forgetful, that this virus is still alive in 35 million adults globally, half of which are women.”

To learn more about how the HIV&AIDS Initiative is empowering community health volunteers in local churches in Rwanda, or for more information about Rwanda HIV&AIDS PEACE trips, email

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